The attack, for the most part, is driven by bottom-line concerns: given the financial uncertainty facing colleges and universities today, say critics, can we continue to afford a system that so limits flexibility in hiring and firing faculty? Financial concerns run particularly high at academic medical centers, where clinical revenue and external funding have become unprecedentedly volatile. How can medical schools continue to pay ever-increasing salaries to their faculty physicians in the face of shrinking revenue? That was the question raised by trustees at University of Minnesota's Academic Health Center in 1995 when Hopkins president William R. Brody was provost. When tenure was put on the table for discussion, faculty protest ensued and put Minnesota in the national spotlight.
It was against this backdrop that we set out to explore tenure at Johns Hopkins. Over the course of several months, we talked to dozens of faculty and administrators at all of the university's nine divisions. Not surprisingly at a decentralized place like Hopkins, each division handles tenure differently. Three divisions--the Peabody Institute, the School of Continuing Studies, and the Applied Physics Laboratory--do not even offer it.
At the other divisions, administrators stressed quite emphatically that tenure's value is not being questioned, and that there are no plans to make radical alterations in the present system. They didn't rule out tinkering, however. And, in fact, many of the faculty to whom we spoke said there are aspects of the Hopkins system that could stand fixing, as you'll discover in the lively debate that follows...
Academic freedom is well-entrenched these days. Do we really
need tenure to protect it anymore?
At Stanford University in 1900, for instance, economics professor Edward A. Ross incurred the wrath of wealthy railroad owners on Stanford's board when he proposed ideas that were critical of capitalism. President Leland Stanford bowed to pressure and had Ross dismissed. Thirteen years later, at Wesleyan University, another economics professor was forced out by a president. His offense? A speech he made off campus in which he argued that the rigid rules for observing the Sunday sabbath ought to be relaxed.
Cases like these provided the impetus in 1915 for the formation of the American Association of University Professors (under the leadership of Hopkins's own philosophy professor Arthur Lovejoy). The group set to work laying the foundations that would link tenure and academic freedom. Its early efforts ultimately led to the seminal tement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure1940.
The statement lays out the need for academic freedom in teaching, research, and "extramural activities," and it also calls for "a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability" (more on that later). Professors who served a probationary period and were judged worthy of a tenured appointment by their institutions would hold that appointment until retirement--except on those very rare occasions when the university could prove "financial exigency" or "just cause" (frequently defined as the "four I's": immorality, incompetence, insubordination, incapacity). Before being dismissed, a professor would have to get a hearing before an academic body of peers.
Universities across the country signed on to the AAUP statement, and over the years, the tradition of academic freedom has become part of the bedrock of higher education in America. In fact, some now argue that academic freedom is so well established that it would continue to flourish even without tenure to protect it. Says Hopkins nursing professor Martha Hill, "Faculty members could be standing on a soapbox on 34th and Charles and ranting about anything they want to, as long as they were productive otherwise." The First Amendment, she argues, offers all the protection any academician needs.
Political science professor Matthew Crenson agrees. "I don't think that our academic freedom depends on tenure," he says. "It depends on the ingrained traditions of universities going back a thousand years. I mean, tenure helps, but I think those principles are now very well established and would continue to exist in [tenure's] absence."
Professor of history John Higham served on the Hopkins faculty for 17 years before retiring in 1989. "The long and the short of it is, I don't think we need tenure any longer," Higham says. "When the socialist movement was developing and the general public tended to be more conservative than the professoriate, university teachers were definitely in danger of being ideologically suspect and losing their jobs. Tenure arose to cope with that situation, and it did. After the failure of McCarthyism, the threat to college teachers' independence gradually faded. We don't have that kind of ideological warfare today."
Higham admits that not everyone would agree with him. "They would say, 'Look at the culture wars.' But the culture wars are very mild, and universities now are very strong. They're recognized to be the gatekeepers of opportunity for just about everyone, and legislatures and the public have a lot of respect for them."
Sociology professor Robert Gordon disagrees. "One's attitude toward this," Gordon says, "depends heavily on whether you are in the trenches or not." And Gordon, whom some consider the most controversial figure on the Arts & Sciences faculty, is definitely in the trenches. Gordon came to Hopkins in 1963 and has devoted most of his career to doing research in human intelligence, some of which links average differences in intelligence to race. His grant support has come, in part, from the Pioneer Fund, an organization also known to support research with eugenic implications. Not surprisingly, Gordon's work has drawn fire over the years from students and faculty, at Hopkins and elsewhere. In 1994, just after the publication of The Bell Curve, in which the writers cited Gordon's research, members of Hopkins's Black Student Union (BSU) called for the professor's ouster. In a letter to the university community, the BSU called Gordon "an intellectual disgrace to Hopkins and its credibility as an academically reputable institution."
During such firestorms, argues Gordon, tenure has been the only thing between him and the unemployment line. "I feel rather strongly that if tenure were abolished, there would be a bloodbath--a purge of people doing the kind of research that I am doing," Gordon says. As evidence, he points no farther than his own department, where, he says, he is something of a pariah. (He is the only sociology professor who doesn't teach a graduate course that's on the required list.) In 1985, Gordon pushed to establish at Hopkins a Center for the Study of Intelligence. "We would have been a leading presence in the sociology of intelligence, but my department voted unanimously against it," he says. At a faculty meeting, Gordon says that department chair Alejandro Portes denounced his research as "immoral."
Eight years later, around the time of the furor surrounding The Bell Curve, Gordon says that Portes organized a symposium and gave him only one-quarter the speaking time as his opponents. "I was trying to get equal time with the main speaker, and I was told by [Portes], 'If it were up to me, I'd give you no time at all.'"
Asks Gordon, "Are you going to trust this man with my position, without tenure?" (Portes, now on the faculty at Princeton, could not be reached for comment.)
Tenure's defenders discount the protection of the First Amendment. For one thing, while it forbids the state (and, by extension, state colleges and universities) to infringe upon free-speech rights, it doesn't necessarily cover employees of private institutions like Johns Hopkins, notes the AAUP's Jordan E. Kurland. For another, many of the activities professors engage in--curriculum design, textbook selection, grading--may not fall into the legal category of speech.
Gordon argues that without tenure, the efforts that professors would have to take to defend themselves in court under the First Amendment would be prohibitively burdensome. "The amount of adversarial litigation involved is tremendously harmful to one's work," he says. "You have to stop what you're doing and become a full-time defendant."
Doesn't tenure provide faculty a valuable measure of
invulnerability when standing up to the administration on campus
"I think the real role of tenure has to do with the balance of power within the university," says political science professor Benjamin Ginsberg. "Were it not for tenure, the university would be dominated by the administration, which controls financial resources. Sometimes faculty and administration see eye to eye, but on balance, I would say that at a research university like Hopkins, it is the faculty that is really the guardian of academic values.
"Very often," Ginsberg continues, "faculty are dreaming dreams that take years to mature, but that ultimately are the things that make the university great. The administration, quite properly, has a different perspective. It's oriented, I hope, to the bottom line, to student service. That's quite proper, but sometimes these values clash. If the faculty did not have tenure, it would be very difficult to maintain the kind of university that we have been historically."
One issue currently galvanizing some faculty and students against the Hopkins administration is the "living wage campaign," which has to do with Hopkins contractors that pay hourly workers the minimum wage. A vocal group of faculty and graduate students has lobbied President William Brody to increase that rate to the "living wage" of $7.70 an hour (pushing an annual salary above the poverty level). At Brody's inauguration ceremony last February, the activists set up outside Shriver Hall, waving picket signs, and handing out literature to dignitaries, journalists, and other attendees. Erica Schoenberger, professor of geography and environmental engineering, was among them. In fact, she's been a faculty leader of the campaign since its start.
Schoenberger says it's no accident that the three faculty members most visibly involved with the campaign all have tenure. "Believe me, it has helped me a lot to know I can live my commitments here without fear for losing my job," she says. "Very few people have that [protection]."
Toby Ditz, a professor of history who was awarded tenure in 1996, agrees. "I'm reasonably outspoken on women's issues and family issues. How outspoken would I be [without tenure]? I might be less. I think the existence of tenure, and the autonomy it grants faculty, is fundamental to being outspoken at all," she says. "On the whole, tenured faculty are in a position to say just about anything to just about anybody. And that's not a bad thing. It's fundamentally very different from being someone's employee."
Former dean of the Whiting School of Engineering Don Giddens puts it this way: "No matter how mad I get at a tenured faculty member, I can't fire that person. In a university," he says, "that kind of dissension is healthy."
David Harvey, professor of geography and environmental engineering, was a junior faculty member at Hopkins during the Vietnam era, when he and six other colleagues were active in the anti-war movement on campus. Harvey was the only one in the group who ended up earning tenure. To his mind there's no question that his colleagues' anti-war efforts helped doom their promotion prospects by angering senior colleagues. How, then, did he manage to be promoted? He says that in terms of scholarship, he had a good record at that point of following the "conventional wisdom." And, "to be honest," he says, "I was rather powerfully protected by the chair of my department [Reds Wolman]."
Without the protections provided by academic freedom and
tenure, how would researchers be free to pursue lines of inquiry
that have no certainty of pay-off?
Tenure, say its proponents, gives university researchers the opportunity to follow their curiosity, wherever it may lead, and however long it might take. While that may sound like an irresponsible luxury to those outside the world of academia, it pays to remember that many of society's great advances--like the development of childhood vaccines--originated out of basic research that had no guarantee of an eventual pay-off.
Replace tenure with a system involving less job security, like a series of renewable contracts, the argument goes, and you take away the essence of what differentiates a university from a corporate R&D department. As Professor Benjamin Ginsberg puts it: "Markets, in general, tend to be myopic. Their focus is on the short term. Academic research needs to focus on the long term. Academics need to be free to be driven by wishful thinking. By pure interest. Maybe 999 times out of 1,000, the bottom line will not justify doing that. But it's that thousandth time that we change the world."
For some researchers in the sciences and in medicine, this line of argument can seem irrelevant. These scientists, even the tenured ones, rely heavily on grants and contracts to cover their salaries and keep their work rolling (see page 29). They must apply for such funding at regular intervals--say, every two or three or five years--and they generally have to have something to show for their previous years' work if they expect to get funded. Talk to them about having an unlimited timeframe to follow wherever their curiosity leads, and many will just laugh.
"In our division, tenure means a job, if you carry your
weight," says one
Medicine researcher. "It's very
clear. If you don't pull in your grants, you leave."
There are those who see universities' increasing reliance on such external funding as a looming threat to academic freedom. David Harvey is one of them. Harvey looks at questions of urbanization and environmental change from a Marxist perspective. Through a quirk of reorganization years back, his department (Geography and Environmental Engineering) falls under the School of Engineering--which means that, unlike many of his Arts & Sciences colleagues, he's expected to fund most of his research through grants.
"Given what I do, it's very hard to get money for it," Harvey says. "By the standards of the School of Engineering, I'm considered an unproductive faculty member because I don't bring in research money. Marxist studies funded by General Motors? It's not going to happen." Without funding, he can't afford to bring on many graduate students to help with his research--a fact that has hampered his work, he says.
"The power of money," Harvey believes, "is a far more serious problem in universities today, in terms of freedom of inquiry, than the tenure issue itself."
How does the tenure system at Hopkins differ from that of
If you are hired as an assistant professor in Engineering or in Arts & Sciences, here's what you face. First the good news: while some elite universities force a volume of younger faculty to compete for a limited number of tenured slots, Hopkins has a senior position waiting, provided you succeed. But that success, say junior faculty members, means that for 10 years you work evenings and weekends and don't have much life outside the academy. You can never forget how competitive the academic job market has become.
Your first big test is promotion to associate professor, in the
sixth year. Hopkins promotes to associate only those whom it
believes will go on to tenure; if you're turned down for
promotion, you're expected to find work somewhere else--it's up
Your junior faculty years are spent pursuing research, writing and publishing scholarly articles and books, teaching, and serving on various committees. If you're in the School of Engineering or in the basic sciences, you must set up a laboratory (often from scratch) and bring on graduate students for research projects--projects that you will fund with money from the grants you must begin attracting in your first few years. And in any field, if you're really good, which Hopkins expects you to be, you'll be tempted by offers from other universities that grant tenure at the associate professor level.
If you aren't lured elsewhere, you will be up for full professor and tenure in 10 years (a time period that can stretch even longer at the School of Medicine, where clinicians must find room for research amid their clinical duties). At the Homewood Schools, your department casts the first vote. If your colleagues say yea, the dean appoints an ad hoc promotions committee that consists of one member of your department and three faculty from outside it. The committee's principal responsibility is to solicit from prominent members of your field (outside the university) letters that attest to the quality of your work and its influence on scholarship. The ad hoc committee turns this information over to the Academic Council, along with its recommendation. The council has the final vote; an affirmative decision must then go to the Board of Trustees for approval. (The whole process is fairly similar within the university's other divisions, though the faculty committees and councils go by different names.)
Why put the ultimate decision in the hands of the Academic
Council? Explains English professor
Frances Ferguson, who
recently completed a term on the faculty council, "The system is
designed to ensure that the university really is participating in
the national educational process, rather than becoming mired in
local, almost social issues, in the sense of people within a
department developing strong bonds of loyalty to one another--
they just can't bear to see John or Suzy Doe leave because they
give such great dinner parties. The Academic Council tries to
judge whether the information on someone's standing in the field
was collected in an appropriate manner, and whether it's been
plausibly represented by the ad hoc committee and the
Make it through all of that and you are now a tenured professor at Johns Hopkins University. It is not a guarantee of lifetime employment, but to people outside academia it looks awfully close. Realistically, it takes a lot to lose a tenured professorship. As job guarantees go, tenure is a good one.
Proponents of the Hopkins Way extol this system, with its long clock, for several reasons. They agree most often on one point: Hopkins is small and can't afford many mistakes. Tenure the wrong person and you're stuck with him or her for the next 30 years (or more, with the uncapping of the retirement age, see An aging professoriate). In a department of 75, that might be merely unfortunate, not disastrous. But for a small Hopkins department--for example, Classics (three tenured slots), French (four), or German (five)--the stakes are high.
In theory, 10 years gives a candidate time to complete more than one significant piece of scholarship, and that is frequently cited as a benefit for the university. For many Arts & Sciences departments, this means two books. In the sciences, it can mean several major projects, resulting in scores of journal articles. Ron Walters, a professor of history who has served on the Academic Council, says that though a candidate might have a strong first book, "we want to know what he or she will do as an encore." It's the people who demonstrate that they can repeatedly produce extraordinary work who get tenure. As Walters puts it, "The pack will separate."
Yes, but.... Critics respond that in practice, 10 years is not much time in which to produce two major scholarly works (or, for scientists, to set up a lab and bring in grants in time to do the necessary research). For one thing, it's deceptive to imagine that you have the full 10 years in which to prove yourself. If you were hired as an assistant professor, you face promotion to associate professor after your sixth year. "It's not like the first promotion is a baby step and you just have to be 'promising,'" says Erica Schoenberger. "You have to have delivered even then."
That's what happened to assistant professor of economics William Carrington, who was denied promotion to associate professor in the spring of 1996. "My experience was that there's de jure a longer tenure clock, but de facto it's about in line with other institutions', in the sense that you have to be promoted to associate after six years, or you have to leave. The time to start publishing is right away. You can't wait for your fourth or fifth year to start writing good papers. It's too late, which is what happened to me. I was pretty relaxed my first few years," says Carrington, who is now working as an applied statistician in the private sector.
Typically, a new faculty member in the humanities and social sciences counts on his or her dissertation becoming the first book. But you can't just send your dissertation to a university press, have a cover slapped on it, and call it a book. The dissertation must be revised, reviewed by the publisher, then perhaps revised some more. All of this takes time away from that all-important second big project. Thomas Berger, assistant professor of political science, says, "[The Hopkins system] gives you enough time to get a second book in shape, if you get your first book accepted right away, which is not a sure thing. Most people get their first shot rejected. It can easily take a year or more to find a new publisher, and that publisher will have a new set of hoops in different colors from your first set of hoops. Two years go by very, very quickly."
Hopkins junior faculty say, with the concurrence of some senior colleagues, that the Hopkins system creates a paradox: You must demonstrate that you can produce major scholarship that is influential in your field, but you're afraid to tackle something too big because you might not be able to finish before the clock runs out.
Says Carrington, "If you're a young person, you have to gain influence right now. You can't bite off some five- or 10-year project. If you do that you'll be out of here before you have a chance to finish." The squeeze becomes acute in fields like history, in which a major book can take 10 years to research and write properly. Says one associate professor, "The clock is not discipline-neutral."
Young scholars want to make their marks, and the second book is
often the one that does it. It is on the second book that they
can combine youthful energy with everything they've learned about
scholarship and writing. But the pressures of the tenure clock at
Johns Hopkins, some argue, can force a second book that was
rushed to completion, or is truncated in scope. "It's
practically impossible for younger people to do a [big project]
until they've got tenure," says professor of
philosophy Jerome Schneewind. "That's causing an erosion of
the quality of the work
that younger people are doing."
Does Hopkins's longer evaluation period reveal much that wasn't apparent after the first few years? John Higham, professor emeritus of history, is one of the skeptics. "People usually show in their first few years what they can do in the long run," he says.
How does the extended tenure clock affect Hopkins's ability to
recruit and retain junior faculty?
Hopkins can also have a harder time holding on to its junior faculty. Frances Ferguson is a case in point. Now professor of English, she began her career as a Hopkins assistant professor in 1973. Four years later, the University of California offered her an associate professorship complete with tenure. "That was an irresistible incentive," she says. "I liked Hopkins very much, but found it was impossible to turn down an offer of tenure." She returned to Homewood only when Hopkins offered a tenured professorship in 1989. "Hopkins does best recruiting people at the senior level," she observes. "It's had a harder time retaining people whom it has hired as assistant professors."
Over the years, the question of whether Arts & Sciences and Engineering ought to change their policy of tenuring at the full professor level has come up repeatedly in the Academic Council and administrators say the question will probably be raised again in the future.
"There's no question that [the current system] creates a competitive disadvantage," says provost and vice president for academic affairs Steven Knapp, "but the faculty here have consistently concluded that the trade-off is worth it." Defenders of the current system point out that the university can shorten its timetable for promotion to full professor if it really wants to hang on to someone. Says Ginsberg, "Someone who has made a mark in the scholarly community is going to be getting offers from other universities, and that speeds up the tenure clock. If someone comes in with a major offer after eight years, Hopkins is going to have to think very hard about responding."
Ginsberg is a defender of the Hopkins system: "Obviously, if you're a candidate for tenure, it seems to take forever. But I think it should be hard to get tenure. It's a lifetime commitment. The faculty should be confident that an individual receiving tenure is someone who will continue to make a significant contribution to scholarship."
Does the tenure process at a research university like Hopkins
encourage or discourage good teaching?
According to the list of faculty responsibilities approved by the Academic Council of the schools of Arts & Sciences and Engineering in 1994, "Each faculty member of the Homewood Schools, regardless of rank, normally devotes half-time to research and half-time to the formal instruction and guidance of the undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students and fellows in their scholarly endeavors."
That said, everyone we talked to on this subject said research comes first in earning tenure. Several sources observed that teaching has been getting more emphasis in promotions decisions during the last few years. They note, however, that Hopkins defines itself as a research university. "Every great research university will stress the importance of scholarly publication, because that's what creates its stature," says Charles Doran, professor of international relations at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). "And that's why, ultimately, students want to go to that university--to be associated with that kind of faculty."
Richard McCarty, interim dean of the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences and chairman of the Biology Department, says, "We spend a fair amount of time in our meetings on tenure and promotion talking not just about the candidate's research, but about other things--departmental service, teaching, and so forth. There's no doubt that teaching plays a big role in our overall evaluation. But I don't think a person who gets rave reviews for teaching, but has a weak record on the research side, is going to tip the scales toward promotion. Is that bad? Perhaps. But we are a research university, like it or not."
There is no standard teaching load for junior faculty. McCarty says, "One of the problems I've always had with 'teaching load' is that, at least in the natural sciences, how do you define it? We spend a lot of time in the laboratories with our graduate students and undergraduates. That kind of one-on-one teaching is very labor-intensive. In addition, there are seminar courses and other kinds of activities. Is every junior faculty member actively teaching two major courses at once? Absolutely not. Are they doing the equivalent of that? Probably."
New hires who have to set up laboratories may not teach at all, at first. "Some universities feel that it's the natural thing to load up the junior faculty to do most of the teaching," observes McCarty. "I think that's dead wrong. In my view, you want to give junior faculty the chance to get their research established, because it is the evaluation of research that is given major, major consideration come promotion time. [In biology] I'm very up-front about it. I tell them that they will be assigned no teaching duties in their first year, that they are to devote their efforts to setting up their laboratories and writing grant proposals. We will ease them into the teaching duties."
Warren Moos, professor of physics and astronomy, believes that it's important to assess first an assistant professor's ability as a researcher. "I don't think we should encourage people who are completely hopeless in terms of teaching. I think we should catch that when they're young. But teaching is a learned art. People do get better at it. I can tell you that if a person can't do research in his young years, he certainly can't do it later."
Junior faculty interviewed by Hopkins Magazine sounded
more disturbed than their senior colleagues by what they saw as
the prevailing Hopkins attitude toward teaching--that it doesn't
count for much in the pursuit of tenure. Says one junior
humanities scholar, "You can be harmed by teaching poorly. But
because teaching has a low priority here, senior faculty are not
inclined to take it or their mentoring of junior faculty
seriously. I think it's accurate that a sizable majority of the
faculty doesn't care about teaching, though I don't know that
it's a higher proportion than at other institutions."
One of the most pointed critiques appeared last February in the
News-Letter, the student
newspaper, when it quoted William
Busa, former associate professor of biology: "Educating
effectively doesn't get you anywhere in a research university. It
doesn't increase your salary, you get no international prestige,
and most of the people within your own institution don't even
know if you're a good teacher. The reality of the situation is
that in terms of...assuring tenure in this university, teaching
won't make a damn bit of difference. It's sad but it's true."
Busa was highly popular and publicly lauded as a teacher of biology. This past academic year, he received a teaching award from the senior class, which created an awkward situation at commencement. Busa sat on the dais in recognition of his award. But many students in the audience realized that earlier in the year, his department had turned him down for tenure. By the time he was honored for teaching, he'd basically been fired.
Junior faculty were not of one mind regarding teaching and tenure, however. Like Busa, Daniel Weiss, associate professor of art history, has been recognized for his excellent teaching. He says that he doesn't sense a disdain for teaching, at least not among his departmental colleagues, though he has a familiar assessment of teaching's bearing on his future: "I have in no way been discouraged from teaching. I have been encouraged as a teacher, by my department, by my students, and by the administration. That said, I'm not sure how much that influences tenure."
Senior faculty members at Homewood note that it would be wrong to assume that an emphasis on scholarship pushes teaching overboard. Says English's Frances Ferguson, "When you are meeting a class, there are ways in which that gets your attention no matter how much you're focused on how the incentive system really works for tenure. By and large, people tend to pay attention to their teaching, because it's very hard to blow it off if you're staring into the faces of a lot of people who are not going to give you a free ride."
Students come to Hopkins, in part, because they want to learn
from the best anthropologists, molecular biologists, historians,
whatever. Therein lies a conundrum: To be taught by the best
scholars, you have to attend a university that emphasizes
scholarship, not teaching. To hear some faculty tell it, students
should understand that when they come here. Caveat emptor.
"The difference between the teaching that we do and the teaching done at institutions that rank below us is the fact that our teaching is done by the people who actually do the scholarship and think of the ideas," says Ginsberg. "We do not teach a watered-down version of what other people are saying." McCarty echoes Ginsberg: "Why one comes to Hopkins as an undergrad and majors in biology is because you're [studying with] people who are leaders in their fields. Biologist Sol Rosen, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a very senior faculty member, is in there lecturing a sophomore-level biochemistry course."
Faculty members at all levels assert that regardless of teaching's role in securing tenure, it is important for good research. Thomas Berger, assistant professor of political science, says, "There's an assumption that it's a zero-sum game. But it's my experience that teaching and research feed off each other. You're supposed to teach grad students how to do research. That can only come out of research experience."
Adds Crenson: "Most of the people I know, many of whom would refuse to admit it, work very hard at teaching, even teaching undergraduates. It's not something you brag about. It's considered one of the lesser virtues. But I have colleagues whom one would never, ever guess cared about undergraduates. Then what I hear from undergraduates is that these people really make an effort to do a very good job.
"The feedback you get from your publications is, for the most part, way off in the future," he adds. "It can be years before you get any reaction to a book you have written. The feedback you get from teaching is every week. That's what keeps you going."
How do you protect against "deadwood" in a system that
virtually guarantees lifetime employment?
Post-tenure review can take a variety of forms. At schools with a formal process, tenured faculty have to go through an evaluation similar in scope to the one they endured the first time around, complete with outside letters and review by faculty committee. The review comes at regular intervals, say every five or 10 years. At schools where the process works most effectively, says vice provost for academic planning and budget Steve McClain, the emphasis is not on punishment but on improvement--"on moving faculty in the right direction."
Though three years have passed since the C-21 report was issued, no Hopkins division has yet embarked on establishing a formal post-tenure review process, and according to McClain, "it's not being contemplated."
Part of the reason is that faculty are wary of taking on the additional workload that a formal review would entail. This problem is exacerbated at schools like Arts & Sciences, which has a relatively small faculty. Already many prominent members of academic disciplines balk at the work involved in writing a recommendation for tenure; few would want to write similar letters--and organize and serve on committees--for post-tenure review, say some senior faculty members. Beyond that, says McClain, there's the question of sanctions. What actions are you prepared to take, for example, if you find that a faculty member's recognition in the field is slipping? Without clearly prescribed sanctions, "there's the danger of the process being more pro forma than analytical," McClain says. "Nothing rises, nothing changes--except to create a lot of work for a lot of people."
There are Hopkins faculty who are in favor of instituting post-tenure review. "People who are productive should have nothing to fear," notes Philosophy's Jerome Schneewind. Susan Weiss, a music historian at Peabody (where she's rallying to implement a tenure track), is another proponent. "We are placing tremendous faith in individuals to be self-motivating for the rest of their lives," Weiss says. "A tenured faculty member is obligated to meet classes and hold office hours. That's all. They can turn down committee assignments repeatedly, they can produce nothing as scholars, and the only things that can be done to them are they can be talked to and their pay increases can be held to a minimum."
The federally mandated upcapping of the retirement age, which
went into effect nationwide in 1994 (Hopkins voluntarily
subscribed beginning in 1988), complicates the picture. By law,
tenured faculty can now stay on as long as they wish. Without
post-tenure review, argue the critics, how can you protect the
university from unproductive, highly salaried faculty members who
refuse to step down? Says Crenson, "In my experience, the ones
who do hang around forever are the ones whom you really want to
leave. The ones who leave are the ones whom you'd like to
Others, like Provost Knapp, argue that retirement is an economic
issue that ought not to be linked to tenure. In a system of
finite resources, uncapped retirement has the potential for
blocking the way for junior faculty, and that's an issue that
needs to be addressed; but to assume that older
faculty are any less productive than their younger counterparts
is both unfair and unwarranted, says McClain. "Any group of
faculty will tell anecdotal stories of tenured colleagues who are
not nearly as productive as they were 10 years before. But I've
never seen a study done that [conclusively proves] that's what
happens." In fact, says McClain, levels of external research
funding actually tend to increase as faculty grow older and gain
Professor of molecular biology and genetics Daniel Nathans, who chaired the C-21 subcommittee that examined tenure and recommended implementing post-tenure review, notes, "We can skirt the whole problem if we have a [review] practice in place that is irrespective of age."
But many faculty interviewed for this article argued that regular review isn't necessary at a world-class institution like Hopkins, where overachievers are the norm and peer pressure to succeed is overwhelming. "The review is constant at a place like Hopkins," says Ginsberg. "Everyone understands that you will be treated with scorn and derision if you go to sleep."
Warren Moos, professor of physics and astronomy, agrees: "The people who have gotten tenure are self-starters. They may come to dry spots in their careers. But I'm not sure what they need is some magic periodic review. What they need at that point is encouragement, and some counseling."
Says Crenson, "If you're going to force people to go through the kind of gut-wrenching ordeal that tenure has become in the current academic market, you have to offer them something on the other side that's better than what they had going in. And another review in five years is not going to do it."
Absent any formal mechanisms for review, several Hopkins divisions use salary as one means of encouraging productivity. At Engineering, all faculty have yearly performance evaluations with their department chairs. "I'm a strong believer in connecting salary to performance," says former dean Giddens. "Tenure doesn't mean that you are guaranteed to receive a full salary for the rest of your life. I have not reduced salaries for people not performing well. But there have been a number of people over the years who have gotten no raise at all."
At the School of Medicine, insiders say there's a "gentleman's agreement" that faculty who are not attracting adequate grant support or carrying an adequate teaching load will have their salary reduced. The current faculty handbook allows for salaries to be cut up to 20 percent per year. Last year, approximately 15 faculty members had their salaries reduced (out of more than 1,400), according to Ed Miller, dean of the faculty and CEO of Hopkins Medicine. Faculty chairs can also reduce a researcher's lab space as a sign of displeasure, notes Medicine's Bill Agnew, who is head of the Department of Physiology and of the school's promotions committee. Other common methods of bestowing disfavor include increasing the teaching load and making unpopular committee assignments.
"When the issue of non-productive faculty members comes up, I have zero sympathy," Agnew says. "Chairmen have the responsibility. I've sat and made very tough decisions, and I think it is the responsibility of the leaders to do that."
That said, Agnew echoes the sentiments of others throughout the divisions when he notes that while cases of faculty "deadwood" at Hopkins may indeed be real, they are rare.
Says Ginsberg, "If you want to burn the deadwood, you could start a forest fire in any institution. But my observation, after 30 years and several universities [including Cornell and Chicago], is that there is less deadwood on the tenured faculty than in any other part of the university, because the hurdle to getting there is so high. The people who get tenure are committed to scholarship, and usually to teaching as well. It just becomes a bad habit. You can't stop writing the damned books."
Can medical schools like Hopkins's continue to afford
Nowhere is tenure economics under closer inspection these days than at the nation's medical schools, which rely largely on revenue from patient care, grants, and government funding to pay faculty salaries. The problem is that this "soft money" has never been more volatile. Managed care is making sweeping changes in the healthcare marketplace. By simply signing a new contract, a health maintenance organization can shift hundreds or thousands of patients from Johns Hopkins to another health system, says Medicine's Miller. "If Blue Cross/Blue Shield says its clients can't use Hopkins, we lose $100 million or more," he says. Medical schools are also waiting uneasily to see whether they will gain or lose crucial government reimbursements as Medicare and Medicaid patients are shuffled around.
At Hopkins, the School of Medicine is currently on sound financial footing, according to Miller. Grant support from the NIH increased 55 percent in the past five years--10 percent over the past year alone. Clinical revenue, though not rising, is steady. Between 1996 and 1997, professional fee revenue remained at a flat $160 million.
So why the drumbeating over financial health? "There are big unknowns," says Miller. "The problem is we're unable to predict our future, where our financial strain will be. If we could say our revenue stream will increase 2 percent per year, we could make predictions. But we can't predict our income."
In response to shrinking or flat clinical revenue and grant support, many medical schools have already introduced changes in the way they pay faculty--including tenured professors--and in the tenure system itself. "Medical schools are not doing away with tenure, but they are making major changes in what it means," says Robert Jones, associate vice president of the American Association of Medical Colleges.
Roughly half of all medical schools have introduced a non-tenure track for clinical faculty (especially faculty who primarily see patients or teach medical students), Jones says. He also estimates that about half have introduced--or are about to introduce--a change in their faculty compensation systems, to ensure that a portion of faculty salaries hinges on the school's financial health; in other words, faculty share the risk.
That's the direction the Hopkins School of Medicine is taking with a newly proposed faculty compensation plan known as the "ABC Plan." The plan is the brainchild of an ad hoc committee, comprised of 17 members representing many different departments, that was assigned in 1993 to examine faculty pay. The committee's conclusion? "We are institutionally ill-prepared to deal with current faculty salary obligations should our current revenue streams decline. Furthermore, we are overcommitted in terms of institutional reserves to support our obligations to salary in the future for faculty with contracts to retirement [i.e., tenure]." Salary obligations to Medicine faculty with contracts to retirement are now at least $34 million a year, and if projected into the future, could total half a billion dollars (assuming that each tenured faculty member retires at age 65).
Under the "ABC plan," all faculty members at Medicine would be guaranteed a core salary (part A): $50,000 for assistant professors, $65,000 for associate professors, $80,000 for professors. Part B would reflect the faculty member's market value. For example, surgeons would probably have a larger B component than biochemists. Part C would include rewards for outstanding work in the classroom, clinic, or lab. Each department would craft its own B and C components. As of July, the plan had not been finalized and the Medical School Council and Advisory Board of the Medical Faculty would have to vote its approval. Acceptance of the plan would amend Medicine's faculty handbook of policies and guidelines (known as the "Gold Book"), and apply both to new hires and to faculty who currently have CTR's.
For the school, the plan would provide a way to link its financial obligations to its revenue. If Blue Cross does yank its patients from Hopkins, for example, the school could then reduce its salary outlay by reducing the B component, explains Miller. Or, if a researcher loses major grant support, a department could decide to reduce B.
Miller believes the new plan is also a good one for faculty, since it will guarantee a core segment of salary, even in turbulent economic times. He points out that this is a promise that faculty do not have under the current compensation system, which allows for a 20 percent reduction in salary per year for good cause. With the ABC Plan, most faculty probably will not see a salary change now, and will only see one in the future if the fiscal picture worsens, he notes.
But not all faculty rushed to embrace the plan. As academic departments hashed out the details of the ABC plan over the summer, some faculty members worried that tinkering with compensation is tantamount to tinkering with tenure. What good is tenure's protection, they wondered, if you don't have economic security? How can you pay for your mortgage, or plan for your children's education, if you have no idea what your salary will be each year? While the Gold Book does allow for a 20 percent annual salary reduction, they note, in practice that action is rarely employed.
Might such a plan wield the first blow that, little by little, would chip away at tenure and eventually erode the whole tradition? Might it provide a way to target certain tenured professors with large salaries, or to rid the school of faculty perceived to be deadwood? "I'm not at all clear what tenure means anymore," says one full professor, who asked to remain anonymous. "I thought it meant that you could not be fired and your salary could be decreased by 20 percent per year, and only when the place was bankrupt--but no more!"
Bill Agnew, head of the promotions committee, has mixed emotions about the plan. He likes its guarantee of salary, but wonders whether the corporate flavor of the B and C components will work without jeopardizing the school's academic mission and academic freedom.
While bottom line-oriented incentives like bonuses might work in
the business world, Agnew says they have their limits in
academia, where researchers are driven by different motivations.
"The faculty don't want to get a bonus based on academic
performance," he says. "I don't. Most investigators would rather
cure cancer than take an extra $10,000 per year. If you make it
possible for them to figure out how memory works, for example by
giving them more equipment to do research, then they're happy."
Agnew also notes that external funding--even for the most
promising research--is more capricious than ever today. In this
environment, how fair is it to reduce someone's salary if he or
she misses getting a grant?
"I don't think it's illogical to capitalize on research," through technology licensing, for example, says Agnew. "But if it is the main motive, it produces pedestrian work. We can't lose sight of the academic mission. Johns Hopkins is not a business. By and large the results we produce we give away."
Tenure, he continues, "provides a level of freedom to produce ideas that are not necessarily fruitful. As a chairman, I want people to do creative things, high-risk projects," he says, even if they do not generate immediate financial benefits.
But there are faculty defenders of the ABC plan who say that rather than eroding tenure, it will protect it by safeguarding the medical school's financial future. Without a revision to the compensation system, says Nancy Craig, professor of molecular biology and genetics and member of the ad hoc committee, "the issue of salary will become a big barrier to promotion." A department might have to deny tenure to an outstanding candidate whose salary it can't afford. The ABC plan is an excellent way to disconnect salary from promotion," says Craig.
What is the future for tenure at Johns Hopkins?|
Don't expect to see substantive changes in the tenure system anytime soon, say administrators. "There is no university-wide process that is calling into question the notion of tenure. There are no plans to do that," says Provost Knapp.
While regents and boards of trustees at state universities and colleges may be pushing to alter radically--or, in some cases, do away with--the tenure subject has not been raised recently by the trustees at Hopkins, says McClain.
Peer pressure could be one contributing factor. To date, no other top-tier universities have radically changed their tenure systems. "Great universities are great because of their faculty," notes Medicine's Daniel Nathans, former interim president. "Having a tenure system is very important in creating an atmosphere where creativity can flourish. You don't tinker with tenure lightly."
That said, it's clear that administrators and faculty councils within the divisions will be addressing aspects of tenure in the years ahead--including salary and post-tenure review.
And what about the need for fresh blood? How will Hopkins, in an age of finite resources and uncapped retirement, make room for new junior faculty when most--or all--of the existing tenure spots are filled? Look for some divisions, like the School of Engineering, to follow the examples set by Nursing and Public Health; both have seen growth in their non-tenure research track for faculty. While Engineering currently has 14 faculty on its research scientist track, Giddens expects to see that number grow.
At the School of Nursing, where about half of the nearly 50 faculty are on the non-tenured practice/education track, Dean Sue Donaldson has been pleased by the flexibility the dual-track affords. "It makes it easier to think about shifting emphases within the school, and adapting more to changes in the marketplace. Faculty in our practice/education track can be pretty fluid in terms of the programs they offer," she says.
One trend Hopkins won't follow is using less costly adjunct professors to take the place of tenured faculty, says Knapp. The number of part-time faculty at Hopkins has indeed increased in recent years--but that increase has come in response to Hopkins's overall growth in part-time programs, Knapp points out. Today, part-time students (from divisions like the School of Continuing Studies and Engineering) comprise more than half of all Hopkins graduates. Knapp emphasizes that in divisions like Arts & Sciences, where students are predominantly full time, "we have not been replacing our full-time faculty with part-time faculty."
It would appear that tenure is here to stay at Johns Hopkins--in part, say some faculty, because no one's come up with a better plan. As SAIS professor Charles Doran puts it, "Tenure, like democracy, is not a very pleasant or even comfortable system-- until you consider the alternatives. When you look at the alternatives, it's the best we have."
The reporting and writing of "Tenure Under Scrutiny" was a collaborative effort that involved interviews with more than 60 faculty and administrators over a two-month period. We welcome your letters on the subject.
Learn more about How Tenure Works: The Divisions at a Glance
RETURN TO SEPTEMBER 1997 TABLE OF CONTENTS.